Karnataka is one of the leaders in e-Governance. Large number of e-Governance initiatives has already happened in the State. Karnataka has a very clear-cut roadmap in place, contends Rajeev Chawla, Secretary (e-Governance), Government of Karnataka, in an interview to Prachi Shirur of egov
What are your plans in taking ahead e-Governance initiatives in Karnataka?
Karnataka is one of the leaders in e-Governance. Large number of e-Governance initiatives has already happened in Karnataka. We have ‘Bhoomi’ in place. Bhoomi is a farmer friendly mechanism to access and update land records using state-of-art technology. We have subways in computers for Kaveri in place. We have a very successful ‘Bangalore-one’ in place. ‘Khazani’, which handles the treasury applications, is in place. These are statewide applications. We are now in the process of finalising a vendor for e-Procurement, which will be in place very shortly. We have gone ahead with selection of 800 rural telecentres. These are the projects that cut across departments.
But there are individual departments that are also undertaking e-Governance initiatives. They are recognising the need to digitise their processes and have initiated several projects. The agriculture department is going ahead with its mission-mode project. The food department is now computerising 10 million ration cards. All this data will finally help us in delivering a lot of services to citizens.
On one side while we are creating a common infrastructure and on the other hand, we are helping all the departments, whichever are the critical departments, facilitate them to go forward in fulfilling their goal of e-Governance.
Do you have the roadmap to e-Governance laid out for the State?
Yes. Thanks to the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) most of the States in India now have the roadmaps ready. Karnataka has a very clear-cut roadmap.
Can you please detail out the e-Governance roadmap of Karnataka?
The first thing is obviously that we create the common infrastructure, which is required for the State. Data centres are in place, telecentres are coming up, and statewide area network is now coming up. Once this common infrastructure is created then we have identified some departments, which are exclusively citizen-centric. These include agriculture, food department, taluka and tehsil office (tehsil or taluk is an administrative subdivision or tier), Deputy Commissioner’s office, District Magistrate’s office, social welfare department, women and child welfare department. These are the departments, which will be taken up for the first phase so that immediately citizens are able to understand the importance of e-Governance, and so to have a buy-in from them. On the other hand, electronic Procurement would go on, which will ensure efficiency within the government and give credibility to the government itself thus ensuring that e-Governance is leading to savings for the state and the nation.
You have just mentioned about the buy-in of e-Governance from citizens, what about the political buy-in from the government?
We have seen in the last 3-4 years there is a perceptible change in the mindset of the bureaucrats at the higher level. For example, when we wanted to go ahead with the 800 telecentres, Government of India’s scheme had not yet come but we were in fact forced by the higher bureaucracy to rethink about it. Whereas, in e-Procurement, what I am seeing is that the finance department, the Chief Secretary of the State is saying to immediately start the process. So now, clarity is coming, people talk this, or if they do not talk at least when you talk they understand this language, and support, which is very exciting. Primarily, it must also be because of the demonstration effect. What we have done in Karnataka must be in their mind. e-Government programmes like Bhoomi, Khazani, when they see, and they hear from everybody. Take the example of Bhoomi, three successive governments, which have come, all claim that they have implemented the programme. So there is a programme, which everyone says, “We have done!” “We own it”. Not only the politicians, but also the bureaucrats are claiming to own it. In the food department, 10 million ration cards are getting digitised the department is very excited. So there are very positive signals from Government in Karnataka.
What are the challenges you face in implementing the e-Government programme in Karnataka?
Once the data is digitised, application is put in place and employees actually follow. The problem lies with the senior people like us who do not have the zeal to pursue. We do not design systems keeping in mind the details. We just buy hardware and we do not know what to do. If we have well designed applications, keeping in mind the data. In Karnataka, 10,000 village accountants learnt computers and they worked because we gave them applications, which actually they wanted.
Budgetary allocation is the last of my problem. My problem is how to spend the money. Gone are the days when Bhoomi was implemented by the State government.
I think the biggest challenge as of today would be the government data digitisation – the content. The government plans to have one Common Service Centre (CSC) per 6 villages in the country. However, this CSC scheme of the government is not paying adequate attention to the content issue. If you do not create data, and then have proper applications, and the machinery, people will have no problem. All the departmental heads should design appropriate applications.
What is the total e-Government budget for Karnataka?
Budgetary allocation is the last of my problem. My problem is how to spend the money. I have now gone ahead with the e-Procurement. Money is not to be spent by the State government. Gone are the days when Bhoomi was implemented by the State government. Now we have a business model these days. So, money is not any issue at all.
This year I am told my budget is INR80mn (US$1.72mn), last year the budget was INR1500mn (US$32.25mn), and I did not know how to spend that money. In Bangalore-one project, I spent nothing; I just prepared sites by spending just INR30mn (US$6.45mn).
So what I feel is that money is not an issue at all in most of the districts of Karnataka. Whenever you require infrastructure project, someone is funding this project. There has been no issue of money anywhere in the country.
When you talk about content, the issue that is important is the data privacy and security. What is your take on the issue of data privacy and security?
I am concerned on security issue more than privacy. I am perhaps worried about security of the data. One has to understand regarding how to secure your data. I will give you an example. Recently, we had a strike in Karnataka. I have an attendance monitoring system, biometrics and SMART card enabled, because the employees knew that can be caught in case of absenteeism, therefore they cut the wires of all the readers. I got it restored in the night. But think about if the same thing happens at the taluka servers! Not only physical security, there is also the risk from internal threats from inside the department. Data security is of so prime importance, and people in this country have not yet matured to the level to understand its importance. But that is the way. It’s the first wave that has come for e-Governance. People have to understand its pitfalls.
What role does private partners have in e-Governance, does it strengthen the public sector in its endeavour?
In creating private partnership, as I just mentioned, you have to be very clear on the security aspects. For instance, in the Bangalore-one you have to be clear on who has the database administrator, who pushed the new application, who pushed the patch, what is being put in the patch, who has validated the patch, user acceptance testing, the sequel server database access, the operating system administrator password, user-manager passwords- these cannot be given to them. People have to understand that when you are using the PPP (public-private partnership) model, your responsibilities are increasing, because some outside party is there.
However, there is a huge value-add to the e-Governance project when you have a partnership with private player. If you design a system well using the PPP model, that is the best way of doing things. But you have to careful. That does not mean you run away from the PPP model itself. You have to take the good qualities of a PPP model and at the same time alleviate those risks that come along with the PPP model. For instance, MCA21 (Ministry of Company Affairs project) is being implemented in collaboration with TCS, but that does not mean that the company affair just gives everything away to TCS, the backend control needs to remain with the government at all times. Who will own the database? Who has the control over the backend? These and similar question need to be raised in the PPP model because everything is outsourced there.